Tuesday, February 1, 2022
Keerthana Nunna - University of Michigan Law School
W. Nicholson Price II - University of Michigan Law School
Jonathan Tietz - University of Michigan Law School
A potent myth of legal academic scholarship is that it is mostly meritocratic and that it is mostly solitary. Reality is more complicated. In this Article, we plumb the networks of knowledge co-production in legal academia by analyzing the star footnotes that appear at the beginning of most law review articles. Acknowledgements paint a rich picture of both the currency of scholarly credit and the relationships among scholars. Building on others’ prior work characterizing the potent impact of hierarchy, race, and gender in legal academia more generally, we examine the patterns of scholarly networks and probe the effects of those factors. The landscape we illustrate is depressingly unsurprising in basic contours but awash in details. Hierarchy, race, and gender all have substantial impacts on who gets acknowledged and how, what networks of knowledge co-production get formed, and who is helped on their path through the legal academic world.
The traditional myth is that legal scholarship is largely meritocratic and largely solitary. Under such a view, what gets you ahead is simply a good idea: a head-turning paper that generates a whirlwind of citations and chatter with its brilliance. Under such a view, demographic considerations like an author’s race, gender, and academic pedigree should matter little in the marketplace of ideas. That myth may comfort those who ended up atop the tower, but it is belied by reality. Hierarchy, race, and gender matter to a legal academic’s success; they matter to the acceptance of her ideas; they matter to her own experience. Against a rich backdrop of theoretical and qualitative work examining these issues, we present here a quantitative study of one way to observe the impact of hierarchy, race, and gender: the acknowledgements sections of law review footnotes, and what they can tell us about legal scholarly networks.
The author footnote—variously known as the star, dagger, biographical, vanity, or bug footnote—gives a peek into who contributed (nominally, at least) to the intellectual product that is the final, published law review article. They provide small, partial portraits of the author’s professional and social networks. Taken in the aggregate, these footnotes give a peek (cloudy, to be sure) into the underlying relationships, interactions, and social networks that make up legal academia. And we can examine that picture for signs of the impact of hierarchy, race, and gender to see whether they show up in a quantitatively observable fashion. (Spoiler alert: they do.)
Here, we examine the star footnotes for nearly 30,000 law review articles published in generalist law journals over about a decade. We probe who acknowledges whom; how school rank matters; and what racial and gender based disparities exist in who gets asked, or who gets credit (it’s hard to tell) for feedback in scholarly papers. Not to hide the ball: we find that authors tend to acknowledge scholars from peer schools, most of all their own school, but also to typically acknowledge folks from somewhat fancier schools. We find that men are acknowledged more than women and nonbinary scholars, and white scholars more than scholars of color. We examine intersectional effects, which are complex; read on to find out more. One bright spot here: networks of scholars of color appear to be particularly robust.